(Wikipedia) ‘a state of completeness, flawlessness or supreme excellence’
(Emma) ‘to strive for perfection once you own a small human will leave you feeling anything but in a state of completeness, make you feel like you’re full of flaws and will likely send you round the twist.
My name is Emma and I’m a former perfectionist.
In job interviews, when you’re asked the rather generic and predictable ‘so what are your 3 strengths and your 3 weaknesses?’ I used to role perfectionist out as a weakness. I did this not actually believing it was a real weakness but rather another positive that meant I would try to over achieve. With the benefit of hindsight I don’t see it as a strength at all but that was how I was wired.
From a young age I always strived for perfection and for things to be absolutely right and in their place. I had one of those machines, you know the ones from the 80s that punched letters onto tape, that I used to label my plugs for goodness sake! I liked order and would become cross/frustrated if I couldn’t do something.
As an adult I was ambitious in progressing my career, setting myself goals and targets. Striving to be the best, always taking on extra activities and overcommitting. I had a colour coordinated spreadsheet when planning my wedding. (Not even sure I ought to confess to that but in the interests of transparency there you have it!)
So, it turns out that this approach to motherhood doesn’t serve you too well. The new shiny humans are unpredictable. They don’t come with a manual so as a first-time mum I listened to everything everyone had to say and spent many a night surrounded by a low blue glow as I googled the hell out of ‘should breastfeeding make your nipples feel like they’re on fire?’ ‘how do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?’ ‘is it normal to want to cry a lot?’ The list was extensive.
The information was confusing and conflicting. I’m a lawyer, I like factually accurate information. Why was there no definitive way to get stuff done so you could leave the house in a timely manner? Even if I had managed to orchestrate a catch up with a friend at a time that Toby ‘should’ have been happily fed and ready to sleep he’d mix it all up, change his feeding/sleeping requirements or create an explosive poonami just as I was about to leave the house. Why could you do ‘the routine’ one day, have a great day, repeat it the following day and get nothing but tears and chaos?
I was given a parenting book. The author informed me my tiny human should be feeding every 4 hours and sleeping xx hours through the night. My hungry boy was feeding every 2 – 3 hours and lets just not talk about the sleeping. I later found out said author didn’t have her own tiny humans!
I wanted to continue to be the person who arrived on time, did what she had committed to, look half decent instead of looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards and feel half normal, like I had my shit together. Instead of acknowledging that this was all new to me, and that I needed to learn this from scratch, to be kind to myself, I just expected this high standard of perfection of myself in motherhood.
It’s no secret I found motherhood first time round to be a very scary unpredictable frustrating place.
When I returned to work I assumed that I would slot right back in where I left off. But now I had a professional role to juggle with the very different challenges of motherhood and maintain this new version of me on sleepless nights. I was exhausted. It was overwhelmingly hard and changes needed to be made.
Now change didn’t happen overnight, and I haven’t migrated to the polar extreme of perfection, but I’m a lot more flexible in my expectations and how I manage them. Expectations of myself and others. It’s still a work in progress. I think I mostly feared letting people down and what they would think of me. Well it turns out that people don’t actually care if you’re 10 – 15 minutes late, they understand. I now arrange a catch up for 10(ish). There was no ‘ish’ previously. If you have to cancel plans because your small human or you are unwell, they don’t actually care, they understand.
In the early days of motherhood I’d just create too high an expectation of myself and/or an occasion and be disappointed if it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. I’ve learnt that the small humans are a law unto their own, there’s nothing you can do about that and that it’s just easier to go with the flow. If you have a pants day know it will end, they will lose consciousness at some point and tomorrow is a new day.
I like to think that instead of striving for perfection I just try to be organised. I do have a calendar, that I repeatedly hiss at Darren to write on, but that’s not perfection. My short-term memory is now horrendous and the calendar means I know everyone’s comings and goings. If it isn’t on the calendar it isn’t happening. It’s also saves me time trying to remember exactly what I did do last weekend.
And lastly be kind to yourself. The small humans aren’t bothered with perfection, they just want you there engaging with them. They couldn’t care less if your hairs a mess, the house needs cleaning or any number of chores need completing. To them you are perfection.